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Here is a short list of what you won’t hear much of from the front-runners in this presidential primary season. Call them the candidate taboos.
* You won’t hear a call for a national crackdown on the corporate crime, fraud, and abuse that have robbed trillions of dollars from workers, investors, pension holders, taxpayers and consumers. Among the reforms that won’t be suggested are providing resources to prosecute executive crooks and laws to democratize corporate governance so shareholders have real power. Candidates will not shout for a payback of ill-gotten gains, to rein in executive pay, or to demand corporate sunshine laws.
* You won’t hear a demand that workers receive a living wage instead of a minimum wage. There will be no backing for a repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which has blocked more than 40 million workers from forming or joining trade unions to improve wages and benefits above Wal-Mart or McDonald’s levels.
* You won’t hear for a call for a withdrawal from the WTO and NAFTA. Renegotiated trade agreements should stick to trade while labor, environmental, and consumer rights are advanced by separate treaties without being subordinated to the dictates of international commerce.
* You won’t hear a call for our income tax system to be substantially revamped so that workers can keep more of their wages while we tax the things we like least, such as pollution, stock speculation, addictive industries, and energy guzzling technologies. Nor will you hear that corporations should be required to pay their fair share; corporate tax contributions as a percent of the overall federal revenue stream have been declining for 50 years.
* You won’t hear a call for a single payer health system. Almost sixty years after President Truman first proposed it, we still need health insurance for everyone, a program with quality and cost controls and an emphasis on prevention. Full Medicare for everyone will save thousands of lives a year while maintaining patient choice of doctors and hospitals within a competitive private health care delivery system.
* There is no reason to believe that the candidates will stand up to the commercial interests profiting from our current energy situation. We need a major environmental health agenda that challenges these entrenched interests with major new initiatives in solar energy, doubling motor vehicle fuel efficiency, and other quantified sustainable and clean energy technologies. Nor will there be adequate recognition that current fossil fuels are producing not just global warming, but also cancer, respiratory diseases, and geopolitical entanglements. Finally, there will be no calls for ending environmental racism that leads to more contaminated water, air, and toxic dumps in poorer neighborhoods.
* The candidates will not demand a reduction in the military budget that devours half the federal government’s operating expenditures at a time when there is no Soviet Union or other major state enemy in the world. Studies by the General Accounting Office and internal Pentagon assessments support the judgment of many retired admirals and generals that a wasteful defense weakens our country and distorts priorities at home.
* You won’t hear a consistent clarion call for electoral reform. Both parties have shamelessly engaged in gerrymandering, a process that guarantees reelection of their candidates at the expense of frustrated voters. Nor will there be serious proposals that millions of law-abiding ex-felons be allowed to vote.
Other electoral reforms should include reducing barriers to candidates, same day registration, a voter verified paper record for electronic voting, run-off voting to insure winners receive a majority vote, binding none-of-the-above choices and most important, full public financing to guarantee clean elections.
* You won’t hear much about a failed war on drugs that costs nearly $50 billion annually. And the major candidates will not argue that addicts should be treated rather than imprisoned. Nor should observers hope for any call to repeal the "three strikes and you’re out" laws that have needlessly filled our jails or to end mandatory sentencing that hamstrings our judges.
* The candidates will ignore the diverse Israeli peace movement whose members have developed accords for a two state solution with their Palestinian and American counterparts. It is time to replace the Washington puppet show with a real Washington peace show for the security of the American, Palestinian, and Israeli people.
* You won’t hear the candidates stand up to business interests that have backed changes to our civil justice system that restrict or close the courtroom to wrongfully injured and cheated individuals, but not to corporations. Where is the vocal campaign against fraud and injury upon innocent patients, consumers, and workers? We should make it easier for consumers to band together and defend themselves against harmful practices in the marketplace.
Voters should visit the webpages of the major party candidates. See what they say, and see what they do not say. Then email or send a letter to any or all the candidates and ask them why they are avoiding these issues. Breaking the taboos won’t start with the candidates. Maybe it can start with the voters.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions